Crunch Time – Standardized Test Prep

A couple of days ago Amy and I were lamenting over the reality that in a short six weeks students from all over the state of Texas will sit down with their sharpened No. 2 pencils and begin taking our version of “accountability” called the STAAR test. For 9th and 10th graders they will have five hours to answer 30 multiple choice questions, write 2 short answer responses, and write 2 essays.

Six Weeks – a mere 30 hours (at most) to make sure the students sitting before us are equipped with the skills they need to pass.

Let’s face it, we are all in crunch time!

Choices are going to have to be made and lessons are going to have to be cut, or scaled down, in order to make sure that the last remaining hours are maximized. If you aren’t feeling it already, you should feel stressed!

But before you start running around in full-blown panic, might I offer you a solution:

Don’t sacrifice anything!

The conversation with Amy got me thinking about the reading test vs the writing test. What if, instead of stressing out about the reading portion of the test, we double the time we spend working on the writing portion? A few days ago, I studied the released questions from last year’s 9th grade End of Course Reading Exam (see below). What is one striking feature about the questions I studied?

  • Why does the author use sentence fragments to begin the article?
  • The author includes quotations from Gupta primarily to —
  • In which line does the author use figurative language to explain why people participate in the simulation?
  • What is the primary purpose of paragraph 1?
  • Why does the author include details about the “scissors” style of high jumping?
  • The author includes the information in paragraph 4 to —
  • The author organizes the selection by —
  • The author ends the selection with information about Fosbury’s later life in order to show —
  • The poet uses these lines to emphasize the importance of —
  • What does the poet mean by the lines “suddenly everything is a metaphor for how/short a time we are granted on earth”?
  • What is the most likely reason the poet ends the first stanza after line 13?
  • What is the primary purpose of paragraphs 1 and 11?
  • In paragraph 6, what is the effect of the author’s use of figurative language?
  • By having the narrator tell the story to Marge, the author allows the reader to function as —
  • The author uses ellipses primarily to —

Ok, so I gave it away… Look at all these questions that have students considering the motives of the author, or the writer, of the passage. Just a little under half of the questions ask our students to put themselves in the shoes of the writer and consider the author’s craft of the piece.

Wait a minute, isn’t that what we are trying to do when we ask students to write themselves? Don’t we want them to consider craft, purpose, style, voice, etc. as they put pencil to paper and write their own pieces?

So my challenge is this:  If you are faced with too much curriculum to cover and not enough time, consider stepping back and focusing on developing your students as writers.

If we empower our students to critically think about composing their pieces as a genuine writers, not just test takers, where they confidently make stylistic choices in their own writing, they will be able to approach a reading passage with a critical writer’s eye, and in turn be able to examine another writer’s stylistic choices.

Amy and I think we are on to something. She is making these choices during her own crunch time with first-time 9th grade test takers and second-time 10th graders (and a handful of re-testers who haven’t managed to score high enough–yet).

What  are you doing with your own six weeks?


2 thoughts on “Crunch Time – Standardized Test Prep

  1. Jennifer February 19, 2014 at 10:43 am Reply

    This is just what I needed to hear today – I think we know these things, but it is easy to forget when the clock starts ticking so loud!


  2. Tess February 18, 2014 at 3:38 pm Reply

    I’ve created (and continue to add to it) a website as PORT CENTRAL for my students. All resources I can find will be available to them for reading and writing. In our next unit, students will pick their weakness, look through the resources, and create a product that teaches that skill. The best will be added to the website as student-created resources.


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